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Free Lunch [Hardcover]

Spider Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books (Aug 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312865244
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312865245
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,426,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dreams Worth Fighting For 24 Oct 2003
Fairs and theme parks are an almost irresistible attraction to the young and the young at heart, places where the everyday cares of the world can be safely ignored for a while as you indulge in a little bit of fantasy and just plain fun. And just a little bit into the future, there may be a new theme park, one that draws on the images and ideas of fabulists such as Robert Heinlein, Barry Hughart, and yes, even the Beatles of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields to create its attractions. For anyone with a smidgen of liking for the fantastic, for things which are a little bit beyond the current world, such a theme park might just be heaven.
For Mike, a twelve year old who has had to face cares and responsibilities that would try the best efforts of most adults, Dreamworld is more than a temporary haven. It’s a place where he can live, sheltered from the world, and even hidden from park employees, helped by the other non-regulation denizen of this park, Annie, sometimes known as the Mother Elf. Ah, but there’s something really strange happening in Dreamworld – at the end of the day shift, there are more employees leaving the park than arrived in the morning. And the arch-nemesis of this park, Alonzo Haines, proprietor of the competing park Thrillworld, would dearly love to find out who these ‘extras’ are, as a lever to destroy Dreamworld. The battle to save the park is joined, and Mike and Annie find themselves in a fight to save not just their adopted home, but perhaps the entire universe.
Clearly, this is a fun book, written very much in the mold of some of Heinlein’s juveniles, and echoes of The Mother Thing and the older Hazel Meade are clearly present in the character of Annie, while Mike evokes something of Kip and Thorby.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spider's Back, doing what he does best 18 Nov 2001
By Alan Robson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Free Lunch is another of Spider Robinson's Heinlein impressions - and a damn good one it is as well! Dreamworld is a future theme park where all your dreams come true (under carefully controlled scientific conditions). Mike is a young, disillusioned boy who needs to escape from a reality that has become unbearable for him. He is a typical Heinlein juvenile; mature beyond his years with a vast knowledge of scientific and engineering principles and a quirky, clever mind. He manages to infiltrate Dreamworld where he plans to live a lotus-eating life away from the worries and responsibilities of reality. Underground in Dreamworld, he meets Annie, another refugee, who has been living there for more than thirteen years. She becomes his mentor.
It soon starts to become clear that there is a crisis in Dreamworld. Every evening, more staff leave the theme park than arrived in the morning - and the staff who leave are all trolls. Where are they coming from? Mike and Annie explore various hypotheses, each more outré than the last. But the truth turns out to be even stranger than anything they had imagined.
It's a great slam-bang adventure. Those with eyes to see will find it stuffed to the gunwales with Heinleinesque touches (Robinson can't resist the homage) but unlike some of his other books these touches aren't too overt and by and large they don't get in the way. He's also curbed his self-indulgent tendency to write self-referential novels full of science fictional in-jokes (I suspect he's found that they sell only to a very limited audience). As a result, The Free Lunch is one of his best novels in years and I strongly recommend it.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spider Robinson's latest adventure 6 Aug 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Spider Robinson spins another whimsical tale. Like many of Robert Heinlein's juvenile books, Robinson's young hero, Mike, manages feats that adults would find difficult. However Mike and his mentor, Annie are both geniuses (another Heinlein title character trait)so they can manage three impossible things before breakfast. Robinson's Dreamworld is definitely a place I want to visit. Filled with exhibits reflecting Heinlein, Beatles and other cultural icons of the twentith century, the park is a walk down memory lane for baby boomer scifi fans. Read and enjoy, then pass it on to a favorite twelve year old kid and hook him or her on science fiction.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Roll Over, Walt! 27 Feb 2002
By Howard Bolling - Published on
DreamWorld is a thinly veiled, future-ized DisneyWorld, with advances in customer, er, guest, psychology that provide an almost seamless, happy experience to everyone. When a boy runs away and goes "under," or behind the scenes, he's aware that the ripple effect of his behaviour will be so widespread. 'Nuff said about the plot; read it for yourself.
I've been a fan of Spider Robinson's for a long time, from the early Callahan's stories on. Is this his best work? I don't know; I do know I like it. It's written in his trademark irreverent, poke-fun-at-the-silly-things style, and it kept my attention all the way through. The end is fitting, if just a little weak.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magic 10 Dec 2001
By John S. Ryan - Published on
I'm supposed to be studying for my law school finals, and instead I just spent two days devouring three Spider Robinson novels. So what I'm saying is, I spent the time constructively.
The other two are ones I'd already read, so never mind them. I'd been intending to get around to this one ever since it was published in August and just hadn't had time. So I finally made some.
Spider is in terrific form here. I can't tell you much about the story without spoiling it, so I'll keep my remarks general.
The tale centers on an extremely intelligent twelve-year-old boy named Mike, who may remind the reader both of Thorby in Robert Heinlein's _Citizen of the Galaxy_ and of Horty in Theodore Sturgeon's _The Dreaming Jewels_. The homage is deliberate, of course.
The plot is delightful. Mike hides away in Dreamworld, a magical theme park of the near future created by one Thomas Immega (presumably a descendant or other relative of the roboticist Guy Immega to whom _Callahan's Key_ is dedicated). Dreamworld is inspired by Disneyland but has rides and other features based on the works of e.g. Heinlein and the Beatles.
Its major rival is the violent Thrillworld. (The contrast is typical Spider, and I mean that as a compliment. If _you_ could make there be magic in the world, which sort would you pick? Black magic or white? Thrills or dreams? The manic pursuit of pleasure or the quiet possession of joy?) Thrillworld is headed by the nasty Alonzo Haines, who would very much like to destroy Dreamworld.
Anyway, Mike disappears into Dreamworld and almost at once hooks up with Annie, a middle-aged midget who has been hiding there for a while herself. Pretty soon interesting things start to happen, and not just because of Alonzo Haines. And that's about all I can tell you without giving too much away.
I _can_ tell you that the tale is Robinson at his humane and witty best. As usual, he includes at least one scene that will give you the creeping horrids; not many writers do this with Robinson's skill, as it takes a very high degree of empathy to create psychological tension without relying on gimmicks. And the reader familiar with Robinson's other novels will recognize _some_ familiar themes.
In short, readers who like Robinson already will find this a very satisfying tale. And readers who aren't already familiar with his work could profitably start here.
I hope some readers _will_ start here -- or somewhere -- because I really like all of Robinson's fiction. In general it's not only satisfying and entertaining SF, it's also a healthy dose of hope.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Trolling for trolls 27 Nov 2004
By E. A. Lovitt - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
"The Free Lunch" is a cheerful amalgam of Heinlein plotlines, staunch characters spouting Heinleinisms, and even a few of his settings rolled in as amusement park attractions. This book must have been written for the fans of RAH's so-called juvenile science fiction, of which I am one. Old and decrepit though I may be, I can still quote whole paragraphs of "Have Spacesuit Will Travel" from memory.

As with all tributes, "The Free Lunch" falls a bit flat if you are expecting something signed, sealed, and proofread by the Master. This is an imitation of Heinlein from one of his talkier novels, with computers instead of slide rules, and the author never did quite convince me that I would want to actually live in his Dreamworld theme park.

So TANSTAAFL ("there ain't no such thing as a free lunch") as the Master once said. Get over it. Mike and Annie make "The Free Lunch" worth reading. Annie is a sort of human midget Mother Thing, only a bit rougher around the personality. Mike is a male Pee Wee ("I'd rather dance with the kitchen stool"), young and sort of sexless (except for an involuntary boner when he wakes up in Annie's hide-out under Dreamworld), and very, very smart. He and Annie, aka the Mother Elf band together to outwit the owner of a rival theme park, who wants to destroy Dreamworld. While keeping an eye on the bad guy's thugs and hiding from Dreamworld's employees, Annie notices that more trolls are leaving the park at quittin' time than showed up for work in the morning.

Are the extra trolls employed by the master thug? Are they aliens from outer space who have found a great place to beam down? What?

If you're tired of gore-and-guts Alien-Dreamcatcher-Matrix ripoffs, this book is a trip back to 1960s SF (with holographs and the occasional boner).
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